1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
My name is Arrigo, I was born and raised in Italy but I spent around 4 years traveling around Europe to learn foreign languages before I would settle back in my home country.
I’ve always had the drive to start my own thing, but the main reason why I actually did it is that Fiverr seemed to be highly focused on consumer companies rather than B2B companies.
When they first launched their Studios program, I immediately accepted their invitation to create my own studio, only to find out that getting the gigs I wanted to work on was almost impossible.
With a combination of clients always trying to drive prices down (i.e. killing the value) and the platform rewarding this kind of behavior, I decided it was time for me to move on.
I wanted to build my own thing.
The idea came from years of experience in the content industry. The more I grew in this niche the more I realized that I loved marketing and that I wanted to pursue a career in it.
What I saw throughout the years is that people sort of understood the value of content, but they didn’t know how to produce it. So I told myself: “Why not create a standardized way to do it?”
Which is exactly what I’ve done.
I started out this process the wrong way by building a refined brand instead of an audience. But as I went on, I realized many things:
- Business plans and investor pitches are useless for bootstrapped startups, you can throw them in the trash;
- Strategy is good but experimentation is just as important for a new brand;
- Positioning, positioning, positioning. You will never sell if you don’t know who you are first and what value you can truly bring to your target buyer.
The company isn’t huge. Considered that I’m a solo founder and that I’ve built the entire thing on my own, getting to ~$2.5K MRR is already a big deal to me. Those are the numbers for now.
The core business model is subscription-based. You pay a certain amount every month and we handle your content marketing from top to bottom depending on the tier chosen. I’m also looking to implement upsells since it looks like clients’ needs are changing all the time in this niche.
I’m truly convinced that the biggest revenue driver for a B2B service startup will always be direct prospecting and sales. Not to say that content marketing doesn’t work, but it takes time.
Expenses are manageable. Around ~$200/month between servers, software, and a few services like foreign phone numbers purchased through Skype. No staff yet.
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
This has been one of the toughest challenges so far. Strangely enough, retaining clients has been easier than acquiring them, and that’s because we don’t work with random clients.
Due to my previous experience as a freelancer, I know that working with some clients isn’t beneficial in the long-term. That’s the whole purpose of trying to calculate LCV.
So we just don’t work with them.
That has brought some hardships at first, but I’m sure it’ll eventually pay out as we build a business where clients can fully trust us with their marketing strategy.
In terms of marketing techniques, there are three core areas I’m focusing on:
- Sales prospecting;
- Content marketing;
- Social/community engagement.
Those are in order of importance.
Again, sales always comes first. You have to have a sales process in place before anything else… Then, think about the content on your site. And then talk to people on social media.
In terms of retention, there’s one thing that’s most important: communication. As much as we like to think that results are all that matter, if you can’t communicate, you’re toast. Talk to your clients, keep them up to date, inform them, educate them—keep them happy!
It might sound trivial but communication is everything.
So just do it. Send emails and talk to your clients!
3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?
The biggest challenge will always be prioritizing.
I’ve said this a thousand times… Business is all about prioritizing as well as constantly realigning all your assets. Every. Single. Day. If you’re not doing it, you’re spreading too thin.
Have one goal in mind and prioritize your days based on having that one thing go up. Is it money? Do prospecting. Is it growth? Do content. Is it buzz? Do social. Repeat and realign.
For us, the original idea is still intact. There are a few things that changed from the first iteration, but the core value is always the same—you pay us a monthly fee, we get it all done. That means that we operate mainly as trusted consultants for our clients, which is our goal.
One big mistake I’ve made is not focusing enough on building an audience. When I first launched Koala Rank, I had nobody to give me feedback, and that led to confusion.
Today, it’s getting better. We’re recouping on that front.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
Education. Partnerships. And an iron will to keep learning.
If you go in thinking you already have the solution to everything, you’re toast. I come from marketing, and before that I was a writer. Nobody told me what sales was like.
And yet I love it now.
As a founder, you have an obligation to learn how to sell. If you don’t want to do it or resist the thought of cold emailing/calling, you shouldn’t be a founder in the first place.
In this game, soft skills TRUMP hard skills.
One thing that’s definitely out of my control and which slowed me down in terms of pure business development is the coronavirus. I wasn’t used to working from home. So I had to adapt, and it took me a while to become productive again. Still not the same thing.
I’m taking the time at home to educate myself on advanced business and marketing concepts which will help us grow for the long-term. I’m in it for life so immediate growth is not a priority.
5. What is your advice for those who are starting productized services?
Just do it.
Build a landing page with what you think is the best solution to the problem. Then get out there and talk about the problem with your target buyer, see if it resonates. Then iterate.
Build your audience.
That’s the one thing that every business should do. No matter whether it’s through blogging, podcasting, interviewing, or anything really. Just build your audience. Start early. Get your blog up and running before you even get your shiny new professional branding…
Email list first. Social later.
The one key mistake I see people making is inventing problems that don’t exist. There’s a lot of talk around validation in the startup world and I think it’s extremely important to understand that you need an iron will to get a real solution up and running. Not just fluff nobody cares about.
You will feel drained by the process. It will make you cry (seriously).
But you’ll wake up the next day and double down on it.
That’s the spirit you need to have as a founder.
6. What are your plans for the future?
Short-term, I’m planning to educate myself.
There are a ton of concepts that are becoming relevant in my own career that I have to understand before I can help other people with crafting their own strategies.
Long-term, I want to slowly build my client base. And I do mean slowly.
I want to make sure that each and every one of my clients is not only satisfied with the work, but that they see us as trusted partners for the long-term. That’s all we’re going for really.
We don’t want to work with people who are creating a thing just because there’s a trend going on. Or because they’ve had a quick burst in cash which then disappeared. We want to work with business owners who care about their customer base and are passionate about their niche.
A blocker in achieving this could be manpower.
I’m realizing that my energy resources are limited. And so quality, targeted hiring will become more and more relevant as we grow this tiny startup into a viable business. But until we get there, it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. Current clients always come first.